If you’re one of the two regular readers of our legal marketing blog, last week’s article on how a series of blog posts can hurt your SEO (search engine optimization) might have raised an interesting pair of questions:
- Wait… can’t you get penalized for hosting duplicative content on your site? And,
- Wouldn’t writing about the same legal topic in multiple blog posts get your law firm’s website penalized?
- Yes, you can get “penalized” for “duplicative content,” but
- No, writing two separate legal blog articles on the same topic almost certainly will not be considered “duplicative” for the purposes of the “penalty.”
Here’s what we mean, and why we put so many of those words between quotation marks.
What Is “Duplicative Content”?
According to Google, duplicative content on the internet “generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.”
The emphasis, here, is on “duplicative.” As Google explained in their announcement, “Google tries hard to index and show pages with distinct information. This filtering means, for instance, that if your site has a ‘regular’ and ‘printer’ version of each article… we’ll choose one of them to list.” Other examples offered are when you migrate your site to a new domain or restructure your existing site’s architecture, and then don’t use permanent redirects to get viewers to your new pages.
Importantly, the pages in these examples have precisely the same content – the results would have been the same if you’d copied and pasted from one page to another.
The interest in demoting pages with duplicative content makes sense when you recall that the purpose of search engines is to promote sites that are relevant and important to a given search query. Promoting identical sites does neither, and only clogs up the rankings with pages that a user would find annoying. The problem is not a small one, either: In 2013, an estimated 25-30% of the internet was duplicative.
The “Penalty” for Duplicative Content
If a site does have duplicative content, it will not necessarily get “penalized,” at least not in typical online marketing parlance. Instead, non-malicious duplicative content gets filtered from the results page so only one result appears. Search engines even make an effort to find the original source of the duplicative content and display that one in the results, cutting out all of the copycats.
However, if there are signs that duplicative content has been designed to purposefully manipulate a site’s rankings, actual penalties might get assessed through Google’s Panda program.
A Series of Legal Blog Posts Would Rarely Be Considered “Duplicative”
Spending several blog posts delving into, for example, that recent state supreme court case that’s going to fundamentally change your firm’s field of practice, then, would not be “duplicative” under Google’s guidelines. So long as you’re not copying and pasting vast swaths of text from one blog post to another – if you are, an internal link would be wiser – a blog series should not become “duplicative.”
That doesn’t mean a series of legal blog posts on the same subject is always a good idea: As we said in our last article, posts that deal with the same or very similar ideas can poach web traffic from each other and minimize the SEO impact of all of them.